Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brussels: General Info

We ended up in Brussels this past weekend, having discovered that train tickets there are relatively inexpensive, with the total trip time taking a little over two hours (and this is the "cheapy" slow train). Train travel in this part of Europe is really incredible - for example, in Den Haag we had 5 minutes between our incoming train leaving and our new train arriving at the station. Both were completely on time and we made the transfer easily. Granted there are occasional delays, but when people here complain about the train service, I internally chuckle wondering how they would feel about Amtrak where I have experienced hours and hours of delays for it being too hot/cold/rainy/snowy/etc. That being said, I do recognize that our country is considerably larger than the Netherlands and trains are not only far less frequent, but must traverse greater lengths, leaving more potential for delays along the way.

Back to Brussels....

Brussels is an incredibly interesting city - one full of dichotomies: in language, architecture, and attitude. This is evident from the moment you set foot on your first "rue" AND "straat." Every street name is written in both Dutch and French, which makes map-reading slightly more...consuming. Brussels from a geographic standpoint is encompassed in Dutch-speaking Flanders, but was unable to avoid French influence from the south. While we expected the city to be actively bilingual, we were repeatedly surprised that French appeared to be the more common of the two languages. So once again, I relied on David's French to get us around the city and I [helpfully] chimed in with things such as: bonjour, bonsoir, merci, or the occasional wink.

Arriving at the old city, one cannot help but be captivated by the ornate grandeur of the buildings making up the Grote Markt/Grand Place. And just as strikingly, one can wander less than a mile away and experience the imposing presence of the sleek, modern buildings of the European Union.

Foreboding weather at the EU / The Meteorological becomes the Metaphorical
The contrasts present in Brussels are definitely evident in its two most famous landmarks, which are within a few hundred meters of each other: the Grote Markt/Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Manneken Pis, a 24 inch, 17th century statue of a a naked little boy peeing. How's that for serious meets ridiculous!? Oh wait, I haven't mentioned that Manneken Pis has a wardrobe larger than mine, consisting of over 800 outfits - everything from an outfit made up completely of condoms to mark World AIDS Day to a white Elvis Presley jumpsuit.

Finally, as you walk through the city, you can see how the old city still retains the charm and grandeur of past times but is - literally - colored by modern Belgian humor. As Belgium is home to the creators of many comics from Tintin to the Smurfs, the walls of many buildings in the old city are adorned with huge, colorful comics painted directly on them. It's incredibly fun to turn a corner and not know which visual landscape will greet you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Coffee makes me happy

On a whole, the move to the Netherlands has given us access to non-stop tastiness: great cheese, fantastic local beers, and interesting new (affordable!) wines. We go to a farmer's market at least once a week, eat fresh fish all the time, and when we cook meat it's just a short visit to the butcher shop two doors down from our apartment.

The one area of our epicurean life that has taken a dramatic step backwards? Coffee.

Years ago, when I took my first post-college steps towards good coffee, my dad thought there was no way I'd keep up with the hassle of blade-grinding my coffee and running it through the drip machine each morning. He was half right - I soon graduated to a heavy-duty burr grinder that only a coffee geek would think was "relatively inexpensive," and started French pressing my coffee each morning after brewing times I tried to figure out *precisely.* 4 minutes 12 seconds worked out well if the coffee was neither super fresh nor relatively old. More recently, I've added cold-brewed coffee in the summer and a handheld Mypressi espresso when I want a quick, flavorful shot.

Right before we left Richmond, I even found an awesome new coffee from local (meaning I get it in coffee's magic 3-10 day post-roast peak period) Lamplighter. This "monsooned" coffee from Malabar, India is prepared by maturing the beans in semi-open wooden warehouses during the rainy season, to replicate the flavor-inducing weather exposure coffee beans used to acquire naturally on a sea voyage from the subcontinent to England.

Before I totally lose you, let's cut to the chase - I'm a total geek about coffee. As you probably know. [Nisha adds: as his labmates proclaimed within 1 week of getting to know him!]

Yet Europe has been a coffee disaster! Even the best espressos I had in Paris deserved no better praise than "pretty smooth."

The lion's share of the blame falls on this guy (pictured above). Not to be rude, but this machine is an abomination against joy. This engineering marvel was created by the Dutch electronics giant Philips in evil collaboration with the country's largest purveyors of bland caffeine, Douwe Egberts. I can't tell if the goal was to make instant coffee even easier or to make it more visually appealing, but I'll grant that they achieved both. You push a button to boil water (max. 30 seconds or so), drop a sad little disc of coffee powder on the filter pad, then press another button. 

Presto! Soon you have a pretty little cup of something that looks like it might be delicious. Except that the "patented foaming mechanism" is producing something artificial that has absolutely nothing to do with the beautiful crema it hopes to evoke. If you know coffee, you'll quickly see that this fizzy stuff is blonded like a poorly extracted shot of espresso, and regardless of your experience or enthusiasm you hopefully will NOT recognize the taste of the strange brown water atop which the fauxcrema sits.

I hope to remedy my situation in a few weeks, but I'm happy to report I've had a temporary fix in the form of a shockingly good espresso right in the touristy center of Brussels! While we wandered around, eating indecent quantities of freshly caramelized waffles, marveling at the arresting grandeur of the 15th century Town Hall, we happened past an open storefront with coffee. A lot of coffee.

No, I mean it, a lot of beautiful, delicious coffee. At Corica you can have ANY of these coffees (roasted within a week!) made into the espresso drink of your choice. Both of us opted for a single shot, nothing complicated. 

Nisha's Indian Karnataka coffee was intriguing and fragrant, but the flavor was somehow a bit mellow. My Ethiopian Sidamo was vibrant, brightly flavored but with the natural sweetness I hope for in Ethiopian coffees. I'm thoroughly annoyed at myself for feeling compelled to note that the coffees were not freshly ground, but I assure you they were absolutely delicious. That's the only point worth making.

I smiled with the deepest contentment.

(At least until I saw the insanity atop my head in this picture. Oh well.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011


During our first week in Leiden, back in the old days when I still got around on foot like a tourist, I noticed one morning that everybody passing over a particular bridge tended to stop in rapt attention, many of them with cell phones out to snap pictures.

My citywalking instincts would normally urge me to walk quickly by the thing of interest that probably isn't actually interesting. But I'm in a town now, so as a first step towards greeting the neighbors, high-fiving the milkman geniality, I figured I could at least slow down and give some credence to local curiosity.

Good thing I did.

As it happens, a place that mixes waterways, bikes, and (I'm presuming here) alcohol, then removes excess litigation (and with that, railing), can end up with quite a collection of muddy frames stopping up the Rapenburg. And so we have the dredging-for-bikes brigade, a questionably official group of men walking through the water and pulling out anything they trip over.

It was only after after looking at the picture later that I realized the leader of this troupe was none other than my favorite random dude of Leiden - we'd already spotted this gentleman riding his bike down the pedestrian-only shopping street as if "Batavius" read "Harley-Davidson," and the next day smirkily captaining a tourist barge. Here he was with yet a 3rd calling. Whether this was Leiden's way of keeping the canals clean or just a group of guys trying to round up some stuff for a pawn shop, it was an awesomely entertaining reminder that I've moved to a strange new land.

And for the record, re: our friend in the picture - I'll be sorely disappointed if anybody else in this town tries to wear the fuzzy red suit in December.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Yawner

We've been pretty confused...perhaps pharmacies in the Netherlands. Outside of more traditional/old-fashioned Dutch pharmacies, figures such as the following exist (these were taken at the pharmacy on our street, Doezastraat, and inside, the owner has about 40 of these figures decorating the small store):

Anyways - these are called "gapers" in the Netherlands, which translates to "yawners" in English as the figure depicts a person (most commonly and historically, a Moor) with an opened mouth and often a pill on the tongue. Apparently this was the symbol for pharmacies in the Netherlands and can be dated back to ~16th century. We were definitely confused as to why the figure was always a Moor. I would like to think that this representation came about because as a colonial power, the Dutch recognized the wealth of information that their colonies provided them in terms of new therapeutics. However, I have heard that the figure came about because apothecaries would go to markets and take along a Moorish assistant who would pretend he was ill and then take the pill that was to be marketed, after which he would be cured and dance around with joy at this outcome. As apothecaries became less mobile, these images were used to indicate that a store was a pharmacy - the symbol was one that could be discerned by even an illiterate population. This may bring up the question of race in the Netherlands - the Dutch are known for being pragmatically tolerant and subscribing to the attitude of "live and let live." In the brief time that we have been here, I can say that we've met only very helpful and friendly people. I also must say that I came here with preconceived notions on the racial/ethnic make up of the country and have been continually surprised by the diversity present here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Saturday Afternoon in Leiden

After a shared Saturday Market brunch of fried cod and then a warm apple turnover (both delicious, and total <5 euros!), we came back to be lazy for a bit and try a beer we were surprised to find in a local store. Our first weekend in the Netherlands, we visited Amsterdam's Brouwerij 't IJ, a local microbrewery whose products are nearly impossible to find in stores. We were shocked this past Friday to see a few bottles sitting on a shelf in a store just 3 blocks from our apartment, and even more surprised when the beer they had was actually the only one unavailable at the brewery itself.

From what we could decipher of the Dutch label, "Ijwit" is an unpasteurized, unfiltered wheet beer. The brew itself turned out to be a sort of wheat-style hybrid, roughly halfway between a German weiss style (citrusy, like Paulaner) and a spiced Belgian wit style (like Blue Moon). As a result, the spiciness wasn't overpowering, and the citrus tastes weren't too drying, resulting in a light but refreshing summer beer that was still full of flavor.

In any case, it was Saturday afternoon, and were sitting happily on the couch, enjoying what the weekend is supposed to be.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Paris, August (part 3)

After a late night Saturday, we were happy to have Sunday "breakfast" be a relatively late meal, but we were in the mood for something great, and we felt that our weekend was still short on quintessentially French experiences. However, we were also faced with a quintessentially French problem - Sunday in Paris is difficult enough, but throw in the August vacation? More than half the places we'd really wanted to go were closed for the month, and most of those remaining have Sunday as one of their 2 days per week off.

But I travel with the ultimate weapon against these types of scenarios... Nisha to the rescue! I think of myself as being pretty good at internet searching, but somehow she's a total professional at putting together logistic information (who's open, where they're located) with an intuition of which reviews are by people who are likely to point us in the right direction.

So we headed out late in the morning, hoping to be first on the scene for lunch.

View Larger Map

Our walk took us by Les Invalides, a hospital built by Louis XIV to take care of aging and injured soldiers and also provide these veterans a place to live.

I'm proud to report that we've finally reached an age where we don't pose for pictures by actually going to sit on top of the cannon.

After a beautiful walk through quiet streets, we reached our lunch pick, Cafe Constant (English version of the website at top right). I knew we were onto something when the place looked charming and smelled of espresso and baking, yet the only other people there were some old Frenchmen sipping beers and a Japanese couple excitedly translating the lunch menu and making their selections. Perhaps I'm biased, but in my experience a small group of Japanese tourists is usually a strong indicator that I'm going to enjoy something as well.

Unfortunately we didn't take any pictures of the place, and I'm reluctant to grab any from the internet and risk mis-citing the photographer. But if you search it in Google Images, you'll quickly get a good idea of the place. There were way too many dishes that sounded delicious, but Nisha and I both knew: a) we wanted some solidly French cooking; b) we were ordering 2 desserts.

I started with an espresso, which was smooth and non-bitter, but not particularly flavorful. I've now been almost 4 weeks without a really good coffee, and I don't know how much longer tea is going to tide me over! Nisha went the other direction entirely and got a glass of Viognier, because she's awesome. And because it actually was great to have as an occasional touch of acid to cut through the fatty (delicious!) food we were about to eat.

Since we were the first people there for lunch (it starts promptly at 12:00, and we arrived a few minutes early to wait at the bar), we were able to select a perfect table upstairs by the window. The view is nothing spectacular - a local dry cleaning shop - but the weather was the perfect temperature to sit inside but feel a breeze. From the moment we started in on the breads (one of which was sourdough, how we'd missed it!), we knew we were in for a treat.

For the savory portion of our meal, we shared a rabbit stuffed with foie gras and served with mushrooms, and tête, langue, et cervelle de veau croustillante, avec pommes vapeur et sauce gribiche - they had me at head, tongue, and brain.

The rabbit dish was very tasty, as I expect of foie gras, though they didn't quite solve the tough texture that rabbit generally has. The mushrooms that accompanied were awesome, salted enough to have a juicy flavor but still firm enough not to be slimy and the umami cut with citrus and garlic.

But my favorite was the veal. Each of the 3 parts was cooked perfectly, and served with just the right amount of coarse sea salt. If I had to pick a favorite, I would maybe go with the tongue, which managed to have a lightly crisp sear on the outside but still be melty and tender with each bite. Honestly none of the cuts needed a sauce, which I had actually not even paid attention to when I was ordering. But sauce gribiche, or at least the version here, turns out to be something great, and Nisha's promised to attempt a homemade version soon. Wikipedia tells me I should have expected "a mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce," but that hardly describes the bowl I received - finely diced bits of boiled egg in a lightly flavored oil with a ton of fresh herbs, and of course, again, with just the right amount of salt. I also thought it had a garlicky taste, but that could have just been the visual suggestion of all the egg white bits along with the taste imparted by the accompanying meats. In any case, it was delicious. If we go back, I'll be tempted to play  entirely against form and just order this thing again. Even the potatoes were intensely flavorful, and we were happy to sop up every remaining bit on the plate with a portion of bread we'd wisely saved for the end of the meal.

For dessert we had two similar dishes - a crème brûlée and an ile flottante, served with salted caramel sauce in a vanilla creme. The first dish was a classic, but well executed. I never tire of chipping with my spoon through the burnt sugar layer on top and getting the perfect piece to crunch between my teeth with the soft creme. The second was something we hadn't eaten before - a marshmallow-like pile of mousse, but we're generally going to order anything that offers salted caramel. The flavors were not that different between the desserts, but it was fun to taste how preparation style gives different texture to very similar ingredients, and in any case we again left the plates utterly cleaned.

If our experience is any indication of how the restaurant usually cooks, I would highly recommend Cafe Constant. Mid-day lunch can be had for 16€, plus it's an easy place to navigate in English without having to give in and eat tourist food.

I'm honestly exhausted, stuffed, and weirdly hungry after writing about this meal, so I'll leave with just a few snapshots of the rest of our Sunday afternoon in Paris, walking around Montmartre. Nisha covered the evening already, our visit to the Musee Bourdelle.

At least we weren't the only ones tired out by the walk up to Sacre-Coeur. And the view was worth it!

I guess it's not too tough to find beautiful views in Paris, especially when all my pictures are of Nisha!

Meanwhile, Nisha stops to capture the artfully lonely streets  (just blocks away from tourist madness!)...

... while her husband stares wistfully and listens to the old hand-crank player in the park.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Paris, August (part 2)

Saturday in Paris was supposed to be warm and beautiful. After we bought our tickets, the weather forecast stayed consistently at 80 and sunny. I was actually worried it would be too hot, and that our only choice would be to picnic in the shade with fresh bread, pungent blue cheese, and some sort of local saucisson.

Alas, a few days before we left the weather got colder, and the overcast, occasionally rainy day never felt close to the mid-70s it was supposed to reach.

We spent Saturday morning wandering the area around Boulevard Saint-Michel looking for a decent restaurant for a light breakfast, but most of the boulangeries we'd heard about were closed (though I am still, somewhat obstinately, pleased by any business that has the gall to shut down completely for even 1 week of the year, much less 4-8). We stopped in at a random place for a pain au chocolat to tide us over, and while it was as tasty as chocolatey butter bread should be, it was nothing special. Breakfast of croissants, espresso, and orange juice was equally forgettable, but at 5 euros was at least not the insane price gouge of many of the places we passed on.

We did find time along our walk to admire the insanely productive window boxes in many of the buildings - I don't think the picture above quite captures it, but keep in mind those are full-size windows nearly covered by enthusiastically growing flowers!

Our first stop after breakfast was one of the smaller flea markets on the southern edge of Paris, Le marché aux Puces de Vanves. We only managed to snap one picture, at this stand selling cute children's toys, but there were several blocks of stalls, and each stand had a distinct aesthetic. The sporadic rain caused several of them to close up early, and for those that didn't we were frankly aghast to see piles of books and records lying unprotected and damp - which perhaps explains why we didn't walk away with anything. Some of the stuff was typical thrift finds (boxy blouses, wide & flimsy ties, pleather everything), but there were definitely some things that fit our aesthetic - old industrial lighting, patined wooden tools, anonymous drawings in thick black lines. I'm sure we'll be back to this flea market, and eventually to the big one at St. Ouen - if nothing else, this article convinced me it will be entertaining.

After a slow lunch in the 1st arrondissement (just on the northern, or right bank, close to the Louvre), we wandered the expensive shopping streets of Paris. I'm afraid we're far too self-conscious to do anything but saunter coolly by the likes of Lanvin and Hermès, but don't let the lack of pictures fool you - we had a fantastic time, as the French saying, window licking (perhaps the polite thing to do would be just throw in faire du lèche-vitrine and leave you to look up that inelegant yet precise phrase yourself). We took a meandering route up from the eastern edge of the Tuileries, towards the manigificent Opera house, and down to the Arc de Triomphe and the FDR metro stop.

I was totally unoriginal, and made Nisha stand in the middle of the Champs-Elysees, while she caught me slouching around next to some flowers.

After walking around all day, we earned ourselves a looooong break at Le Garde Robe, the type of wine bar every good city should have in abundance but is never easy enough to find. Close the the Louvre-Rivoli metro stop (and just around the corner from Spring, a restaurant that's gotten a lot of attention in recent years as Paris moves towards hip, relaxed settings for awesome food). We were happy to see several wine options from Jura, a mountainous region in eastern France that has become one of our favorites for its unique style of wines. After the waitress patiently put up with our many questions and comments, I took a nicely spiced glass of red from the nearby Savoy, a blend of.... I can't remember any more, I was just pleased the waitress continued to gamely respond to all of my questions in French, though it must have been obvious from my blank face that I barely understood anything I hadn't uttered myself. Nisha ended up with a highly oxidized white from Arbois in the vin jaune style, though technically not aged long enough to be given that official designation. Somehow both tart and sweet, it was definitely a wine meant for cheese, and we ordered a mixed cheese & charcuterie plate that turned out to be popular with everybody that night - at the table next to us, a mother and her two sons each ordered one, perhaps to distract the palate following the mom+14 year-old son prolonged cigarette break. The wine bar had filled up to the point where we didn't have a chance to ask about the 3-4 types each of meat and cheese we received, but everything was served at the perfect temperature, and we were content just to enjoy each bite.

But when you're in a wine bar, you have to have some wine. We ordered a Poulsard from Arbois (sticking with the Jura theme), which was fruitier than other Jura wines we've had but still with a lot of personality. Not that we really know what we're talking about - I think Nisha's expression here captures her feeling when I eagerly agreed with the suggestion that the wine would be better decanted, when in fact I was happy just to be holding onto the threads of the question and maintaining any hope of an intelligible response.

Wine inspired us to end the night with a cocotte boudin, a cooked dish of blood sausage, potato, and onion, served with toasted bread. We're always game for some weird cuts of meat (does blood even count as meat?), but this was just downright delicious, satisfying and filling like great barbeque. If you ever come eat with us and you don't like to try weird stuff, I would just tell you that it's pulled pork, and I bet you'd love every bite (shout out to my sister, who wondered what kind of baking could turn out the awesome "sweet breads" at Acacia).

A bottle of wine and 2 glasses of later , we danced into the night looking for one more memory, and it seemed entirely reasonable to take the inevitable trip to the Eiffel Tower. Arriving from the RER Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel train stop on the southwest side of the tower, we came through a surprisingly tranquil park area. There were a few families and couples sitting in the grass, but it was not at all the noisy touristy scene that I was expecting.

Once we got to the base of the tower, we saw the sort of craziness you'd assume would be there, with scores of young guys doing a brisk business in light-up helicopter toys that, of course, looked far more impressive in that setting than they will anywhere else.

We were content to lie together in the grass, and enjoy one of the world's most famous sites by finding ourselves alone and happy.

(...okay, and maybe a little bit drunk...)

Big Red!!!

What in the world is this doing in Leiden?! Thank goodness fate led us into the local Iranian convenience store.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Snapshots of Life in Leiden: Balcony Dinner

David is officially Dutch - in the last 48 hrs he has accomplished the following: riding his bike while carrying a suitcase...and riding said bike while carrying three bags of groceries! I think one of our favorite past-times here is to sit on our balcony and watch people: 1) riding bikes while carrying bags and children, holding an open umbrella, and talking on cellphones all at the same time 2) watching people in boats traveling down the canal right outside our place and ducking so they don't lose a head while crossing under a particularly low bridge.

Anyways...we managed to secure and cart home a freshly baked baguette, so eating cheese (and Queen Victoria plums/lingonberries) on the balcony catapulted to being our number one dinner option. Hoping for more sunny, beautiful days!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Snapshots of Life in Leiden

iPhone picture while sitting at a cafe about a block from our apartment...contemplating how much this landscape will change in the winter!

a picture taken during our first weekend in Leiden!

Madame Grés at Musée Bourdelle

While I find my husband incredibly stylish [not that I’m biased or anything!], neither of us are very knowledgeable about [or wealthy enough to participate in] the “world of fashion.” However, over the last few years, we’ve found ourselves drawn to the fashion exhibits at various museums we’ve visited. The Kansai Yamamoto exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” at the Met were two very different, but incredibly captivating slivers of art and design in fabric form.

I remember the Yamamoto exhibit being supremely entertaining – eye candy – detailed, whimsical pieces that incorporated traditional Japanese forms in new, extremely creative ways. Yet the playfulness of the work was enabled by a foundation of keen technical insight, condensing shocking volumes of fabric to create the otherworldly designs. If not for a need to do other things that day (like go get delicious Capogiro gelato!!!), we could have sat for hours watching the videos of his old runway-cum-Cirque du Soleil fashion shows.

In contrast, the “American Woman” presented a comparatively academic exploration of the evolution of women’s fashion, charting an arc from the 1890s rise of “the slender American Diana” archetype, through the flapper 20s, and to the screen sirens of the Golden Age of cinema. If there’s one thing we learned at this exhibit, it’s that the ideas of fashion really have been recycled countless times through the decades – for anybody who gets excited about things like poofy cap sleeves, google “Gibon girl athletic” and see what tennis & golf outfits looked like at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Such exhibits inspire us to check out the Fashion Institute of Technology whenever we’re in NYC to see whatever is on exhibit at their [free] museum – from beautiful pieces by Stella McCartney to displays on Japanese fashion of the 1980s, we’ve seen some interesting work in a comfortable, unimposing venue. We’ve been a little sad that we missed the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met this summer and are still keeping our fingers crossed that it ends up making its way to London…or Paris in the near future!

We did, however, have the opportunity to see another amazing fashion exhibit at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris this past weekend. About 80 pieces of Madame Grés are showcased until the end of August amongst the intricate, but still behemoth sculptures of Antoine Bourdelle. The work of Madame Grés is beautiful to examine in general due to the level of detail. Her ability to use pleats and folds to “sculpt” fabric into these timeless, beautiful forms is truly spectacular. And then to see these pieces – borrowed from classic Greco-Roman design, transformed into bright dresses with plunging backs, billowing sleeves, thoughtful cut-outs, and sometimes careful, rolled hems - juxtaposed amongst Bourdelle’s own modern takes on classic sculptural forms, is a unique and incredibly enriching way to view the work of these two individuals. I leave you all with pictures (click to enlarge) of this terrific exhibit…

Paris, August (part 1)

This weekend we took our first (okay, my first - Nisha visited many years ago) trip to Paris. If you buy far enough ahead of time, the train from Amsterdam to Paris costs about the same as a Chinatown bus from Richmond to New York, and takes about the same amount of time as flying. It's a tough life we lead.

We arrived Friday night at Gare du Nord, which turns out to be an impressive 19th-century station from a golden age of train travel, but which we quickly walked through to get to the Metro and figure out what sort of adventures we would find. I immediately impressed Nisha by requesting un carnet de dix billets, s'il vous plaît, but acquiring these 10 subway tickets was definitely the high point for my shaky French.

Line 4 to Montparnasse turned out not to be the most beautiful introduction for a metro system I've heard of as the best in Europe, but we were happy to be doing something easy and comfortable in a city we'd never visited.  It gave us time to wonder at the small details that place you firmly in a foreign environment - like the subway train doors that you open with a lever before the train stops, or that the warning to be careful of getting your hands stuck in the door depicts a surprised pink rabbit wearing yellow pajamas.

Disembarking at our station, Montparnasse - Bienvenüe, we passed this restaurant. I would proceed to make many an infantile joke about flamey cooch. We checked in at Hotel Ibis Tour Montparnasse, which was serviceable by not anything we'd seek out again. Sadly, we'd eaten a good amount of (surprisingly tasty) food on the train, and were not all that hungry on our first night in one of the great food cities of the world! We ended up walking around just to get a feel of the place, hoping to understand where people hang out and why this city has been so romantic to so many people for such a long time.

The famous Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. I wish I could tell you that we studied in detail the symbolism of the imagery, but that will have to wait for another trip. For now, it was a beautiful place to sit on a clear night. At least until a giant rat rustling in the bushes behind our bench spooked the crap out of Nisha.

I'm quite sure the Seine looks better without me in front of it, but here we are, ready to walk around for hours.

These poor feet have no idea what's in store for them over the next 2 days. For now, it's time to rest.